After living in Germany for years, I finally feel fairly comfortable with the tipping structure. But it took trial and error. Tipping is just one of those things that is hard to tell if you are doing it wrong. Too much? Too little? And Germany's often lack-luster service industry can leave you uninspired to tip much at all.
Tipping in German Restaurants
Initially, talking to friends here in Germany did little to relieve my concerns. People who I consider very generous had no problem leaving no tip if they were didn't have much money. I heard the lame excuse of "being a student" more than once. Coming from my American perspective, how did they think this was acceptable?
The truth is, tipping is expected in Germany (like much of Europe, except perhaps Italy) but at a much lower rate than in North America. This may be why service is so lackluster compared to American standards. Forgotten orders, snarky service and eye-rolling are not uncommon side dishes to go with your order. You may not be moved to tip, especially in Berlin, the sneer capital of service.
Also consider that service may be included in your bill (marked as bedienung). Even the word for tip, Trinkgeld or “drinking money”, indicates it should be no more than small change. Here are some more essential dining-out vocabulary terms to help you enjoy a German restaurant.
So what is the short answer? It is common practice to leave between 5 and 10 percent at a sit-down restaurant and just round up to the nearest euro or two at a cafe. Fifteen percent is downright lavish and more than that is only for tourists.
How to Tip in a German Restaurant
The amount of tip is not the only unusual thing for some visitors. The process of paying and tipping is also quite different from North America.
If you wait to receive the bill automatically, you will be waiting forever. Germans enjoy a leisurely dining experience and may continue to order espresso after the meal, maybe another dessert, and so on.
Instead, when you are ready to pay, signal the waiter and ask for the bill ("Die Rechnung bitte"). The server will bring the bill and usually expect payment as they stand there. This requires you to decide on the tip quickly and can be unnerving for foreigners - at first. Estimate what you expect to pay and what you want to tip before signalling them and this should be a stress-free transaction.
For example, if the bill comes to 14.50 euro, you can simply say "16 euro" and the server will immediately deliver your change. If you would like for them to keep the change, like if you are paying 20 euro even, you can say, "Stimmt so". Viola! Trinkgeld.
Also try to tip in cash, even if you are paying by card. This is the best way to get the tip to the server.
Tipping in German Hotels
Tipping at hotels is not as common as in the USA. For good service in a starred hotel, you can give the porter an euro per bag and leave housekeeping 3 to 5 euros per night. If the concierge provides a service, such as calling in a reservation at a fine dining restaurant, you can tip up to 20 euros.
If staying in a homey Pension, similar to a B&B, tipping is not expected.
Tipping Taxis in Germany
Tipping is not required in German taxis, but it is common to round up to the nearest euro. For good service (speaking English, child seat, loading luggage) you can leave gratuity up to 10%.
Tipping Tour Guides in Germany
For a good tour guide in Germany, you can tip up to 10%. This is especially true for private tours or multi-day tours. For a free tour you should still tip at least 5 euro as the guides usually must pay the company for every person that shows up, regardless whether they tip or not.
Overall, the best advice is to tip what feels comfortable to you.